Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-06-07 14:05:47
  • Article ID: 676063

Q&A: SLAC's Vera Luth Discusses the Search for New Physics

Data from BABAR, Belle and LHCb experiments hint at phenomena beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.

  • Credit: Dawn Harmer/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Vera Lüth, professor emerita of experimental particle physics at SLAC.

  • Credit: Peter Ginter/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    View of the BABAR detector (about six meters in diameter) with staff scientist Michael Kelsey analyzing problems during a shutdown of SLAC’s PEP-II electron-positron storage rings.

  • Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    An electron-positron annihilation producing a pair of B mesons as recorded by the BABAR detector at the PEP-II storage rings. Among the reconstructed curved particle tracks is a muon (bottom left). The direction of the associated anti-neutrino (dashed arrow) is identified as missing momentum. Both particles originate from the same B-meson decay.

The Standard Model of particle physics describes the properties and interactions of the constituents of matter. The development of this theory began in the early 1960s, and in 2012 the last piece of the puzzle was solved by the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland. Experiments have confirmed time and again the Standard Model’s very accurate predictions.

Yet, researchers have reasons to believe that physics beyond the Standard Model exists and should be found. For instance, the Standard Model does not explain why matter dominates over antimatter in the universe. It also does not provide clues about the nature of dark matter – the invisible substance that is five times more prevalent than the regular matter we observe.

In this Q&A, particle physicist Vera Lüth discusses scientific results that potentially hint at physics beyond the Standard Model. The professor emerita of experimental particle physics at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is co-author of a review article published today in Nature that summarizes the findings of three experiments: BABAR at SLAC, Belle in Japan and LHCb at CERN. 

What are the hints of new physics that you describe in your article?

The hints originate from studies of an elementary particle, known as the B meson – an unstable particle produced in the collision of powerful particle beams. More precisely, these studies looked at decays of the B meson that involve leptons – electrically charged elementary particles and their associated neutrinos. There are three charged leptons: the electron, a critical component of atoms discovered in 1897; the muon, first observed in cosmic rays in 1937; and the much heavier tau, discovered at the SPEAR electron-positron (e+e-) storage ring at SLAC in 1975 by Martin Perl.

Due to their very different masses, the three leptons also have very different lifetimes. The electron is stable, whereas the muon and tau decay in a matter of microseconds and a fraction of a picosecond, respectively. A fundamental assumption of the Standard Model is that the interactions of the three charged leptons are the same if their different masses and lifetimes are taken into account.

Over many years, different experiments have tested this assumption – referred to as “lepton universality” – and to date no definite violation of this rule has been observed. We now have indications that the rates for B meson decays involving tau leptons are larger than expected compared to the measured rates of decays involving electrons or muons, taking into account the differences in mass. This observation would violate lepton universality, a fundamental assumption of the Standard Model.

What does a violation of the Standard Model actually mean?

It means that there is evidence for phenomena that we cannot explain in the context of the Standard Model. If such a phenomenon is firmly established, the Standard Model needs to be extended – by introducing new fundamental particles and also new interactions related to these particles.

In recent years, searches for fundamentally new phenomena have relied on high-precision measurements to detect deviations from Standard Model predictions or on searches for new particles or interactions with properties that differ from known ones.

What exactly are the BABAR, Belle and LHCb experiments?

They are three experiments that have challenged lepton universality.

Belle and BABAR were two experiments specifically designed to study B mesons with unprecedented precision – particles that are five times heavier than the proton and contain a bottom or b quark. These studies were performed at e+e- storage rings that are commonly referred to as B factories and operate at colliding-beam energies just high enough to produce a pair of B mesons, and no other particle. BABAR operated at SLAC’s PEP-II from 1999 to 2008, Belle at KEKB in Japan from 1999 to 2010. The great advantage of these experiments is that the B mesons are produced pairwise, each decaying into lighter particles – on average five charged particles and a similar number of photons.

The LHCb experiment is continuing to operate at the proton-proton collider LHC with energies that exceed the ones of B factories by more than a factor of 1,000. At this higher energy, B mesons are produced at a much larger rate than at B factories. However, at each crossing of the beams, hundreds of other particles are produced in addition to B mesons. This feature tremendously complicates the identification of B meson decays.  

To study lepton universality, all three experiments focus on B decays involving a charged lepton and an associated neutrino. A neutrino doesn’t leave a trace in the detector, but its presence is detected as missing energy and momentum in an individual B decay.

What evidence do you have so far for a potential violation of lepton universality?

All three experiments have identified specific B meson decays and have compared the rates of decays involving an electron or muon to those involving the higher mass tau lepton. All three experiments observe higher-than-expected decay rates for the decays with a tau. The average value of the reported results, taking into account the statistical and systematic uncertainties, exceeds the Standard Model expectation by four standard deviations.

This enhancement is intriguing, but not considered sufficient to unambiguously establish a violation of lepton universality. To claim a discovery, particle physicists generally demand a significance of at least five standard deviations. However, the fact that this enhancement was detected by three experiments, operating in very different environments, deserves attention. Nevertheless, more data will be needed, and are expected in the not too distant future.

What was your role in this research?

As the technical coordinator of the BABAR collaboration during the construction of the detector, I was the liaison between the physicists and the engineering teams, supported by the BABAR project management team at SLAC. With more than 500 BABAR members from 11 countries, this was a challenging task, but with the combined expertise and dedication of the collaboration the detector was completed and ready to take data in four years.

Once data became available, I rejoined SLAC’s Research Group C and took over its leadership from Jonathan Dorfan. As convener of the physics working group on B decays involving leptons, I coordinated various analyses by scientists from different external groups, among them SLAC postdocs and graduate students, and helped to develop the analysis tools needed for precision measurements.

Almost 10 years ago, we started updating an earlier analysis performed under the leadership of Jeff Richman of the University of California, Santa Barbara on B decays involving tau leptons and extended it to the complete BABAR data set. This resulted in the surprisingly large decay rate. The analysis was the topic of the PhD thesis of my last graduate student, Manuel Franco Sevilla, who over the course of four years made a number of absolutely critical contributions that significantly improved the precision of this measurement, and thereby enhanced its significance.

What keeps you excited about particle physics?

Over the past 50 years that I have been working in particle physics, I have witnessed enormous progress in theory and experiments leading to our current understanding of matter’s constituents and their interactions at the most fundamental level. But there are still many unanswered questions, from very basic ones like “Why do particles have certain masses and not others?” to questions about the grand scale of things, such as “What is the origin of the universe, and is there more than one?”

Lepton universality is one of the Standard Model’s fundamental assumptions. If it were violated, unexpected new physics processes must exist. This would be a major breakthrough – even more surprising than the discovery of the Higgs boson, which was predicted to exist many decades ago.  

What results do you expect in the near future?

There is actually a lot going on in the field. LHCb researchers are collecting more data and will try to find out if the lepton universality is indeed violated. My guess is that we should know the answer by the end of this year. A confirmation will be a great event and will undoubtedly trigger intense experimental and theoretical research.

At present we do not understand the origin of the observed enhancement. We first assumed that it could be related to a charged partner of the Higgs boson. Although the observed features did not match the expectations, an extension of the Higgs model could do so. Another possible explanation that can neither be confirmed nor excluded is the presence of so-called lepto-quarks. These open questions will remain a very exciting topic that need to be addressed by experiments and theoretical work.

Recently, LHCb scientists have reported an interesting result indicating that certain B meson decays more often include an electron pair than a muon pair. However, the significance of this new finding is only about 2.6 standard deviations, so it’s too early to draw any conclusions. BABAR and Belle have not confirmed this observation.

At the next-generation B factory, Super-KEKB in Japan, the new Belle II experiment is scheduled to begin its planned 10-year research program in 2018. The expected very large new data sets will open up many opportunities for searches for these and other indications of physics beyond the Standard Model.


SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more information, please visit slac.stanford.edu.

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

X
X
X
  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Rutgers Scientists Discover 'Legos of Life'

Rutgers scientists have found the "Legos of life" - four core chemical structures that can be stacked together to build the myriad proteins inside every organism - after smashing and dissecting nearly 10,000 proteins to understand their component parts. The four building blocks make energy available for humans and all other living organisms, according to a study published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Small Hydroelectric Dams Increase Globally with Little Research, Regulations

University of Washington researchers have published the first major assessment of small hydropower dams around the world -- including their potential for growth -- and highlight the incredibly variability in how dams of varying sizes are categorized, regulated and studied.

Researchers Reveal How Microbes Cope in Phosphorus-Deficient Tropical Soil

A team led by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has uncovered how certain soil microbes cope in a phosphorus-poor environment to survive in a tropical ecosystem. Their novel approach could be applied in other ecosystems to study various nutrient limitations and inform agriculture and terrestrial biosphere modeling.

Scientists Discover Material Ideal for Smart Photovoltaic Windows

Researchers at Berkeley Lab discovered that a form of perovskite, one of the hottest materials in solar research due to its high conversion efficiency, works surprisingly well as a stable and photoactive semiconductor material that can be reversibly switched between a transparent state and a non-transparent state, without degrading its electronic properties.

Biofuels Feedstock Study Supports Billion-Ton Estimate

Can farmers produce at least 1 billion tons of biomass per year that can be used as biofuels feedstock? The answer is yes.

On the Rebound

New research from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Stanford University has found that palladium nanoparticles can repair atomic dislocations in their crystal structure, potentially leading to other advances in material science.

Coupling Experiments to Theory to Build a Better Battery

A Berkeley Lab-led team of researchers has reported that a new lithium-sulfur battery component allows a doubling in capacity compared to a conventional lithium-sulfur battery, even after more than 100 charge cycles.

DRIFTing to Fast, Precise Data

Non-destructive technique identifies key variations in Alaskan soils, quickly providing insights into carbon levels.

A Shortcut to Modeling Sickle Cell Disease

Using Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan supercomputer, a team led by Brown University's George Karniadakis devised a multiscale model of sickle cell disease that captures what happens inside a red blood cell affected by the disease.

Remotely Predicting Leaf Age in Tropical Forests

New approach offers data across species, sites, and canopies, providing insights into carbon uptake by forests.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Theoretical Physicist Elena Belova Named to Editorial Board of Physics of Plasmas

Theoretical physicist Elena Belova named to editorial board of Physics of Plasmas

Superconducting X-Ray Laser Takes Shape in Silicon Valley

An area known for high-tech gadgets and innovation will soon be home to an advanced superconducting X-ray laser that stretches 3 miles in length, built by a collaboration of national laboratories. On January 19, the first section of the machine's new accelerator arrived by truck at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park after a cross-country journey that began in Batavia, Illinois, at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Kelsey Stoerzinger Earns Young Investigator Lectureship

Kelsey Stoerzinger, Pauling Fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is one of the 2018 Caltech Young Investigator Lecturers in Engineering and Applied Physics.

North Dakota State University Joins Two National Distributed Computing Groups

The NDSU Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology (CCAST) joins OSG (Open Science Grid) and XSEDE (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment).

DOE Announces Funding for New HPC4Manufacturing Industry Projects

The Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) today announced the funding of $1.87 million for seven new industry projects under an ongoing initiative designed to utilize DOE's high-performance computing (HPC) resources and expertise to advance U.S. manufacturing and clean energy technologies.

DOE Announces First Awardees for New HPC4Materials for Severe Environments Program

The Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy (FE) today announced the funding of $450,000 for the first two private-public partnerships under a brand-new initiative aimed at discovering, designing and scaling up production of novel materials for severe environments.

Two Argonne Scientists Recognized for a Decade of Breakthroughs

Two scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have been named to the Web of Science's Highly Cited List of 2017, ranking in the top 1 percent of their peers by citations and subject area. Materials Scientist Khalil Amine and Energy and Environmental Policy Scientist David Streets say they are thrilled to see their work -- and the laboratory -- recognized in such a way.

Argonne Welcomes Department of Energy Secretary Perry

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Argonne National Laboratory yesterday, getting a first-hand view of the multifaceted and interdisciplinary research program laboratory of the Department.

Argonne names John Quintana Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and COO

John Quintana has been named Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

Developing Next-Generation Sensing Technologies

Recently, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $20 million in funding for 15 projects that will develop a new class of sensor systems to enable significant energy savings via reduced demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Exploring Past, Present, and Future Water Availability Regionally, Globally

New open-source software simulates river and runoff resources.

Arctic Photosynthetic Capacity and Carbon Dioxide Assimilation Underestimated by Terrestrial Biosphere Models

New measurements offer data vital to projecting plant response to environmental changes.

DRIFTing to Fast, Precise Data

Non-destructive technique identifies key variations in Alaskan soils, quickly providing insights into carbon levels.

Superconducting Tokamaks Are Standing Tall

Plasma physicists significantly improve the vertical stability of a Korean fusion device.

Graphene Flexes Its Muscle

Crumpling reduces rigidity in an otherwise stiff material, making it less prone to catastrophic failure.

Remotely Predicting Leaf Age in Tropical Forests

New approach offers data across species, sites, and canopies, providing insights into carbon uptake by forests.

What's the Noise Eating Quantum Bits?

The magnetic noise caused by adsorbed oxygen molecules is "eating at" the phase stability of quantum bits, mitigating the noise is vital for future quantum computers.

Rewritable Wires Could Mean No More Obsolete Circuitry

An electric field switches the conductivity on and off in atomic-scale channels, which could allow for upgrades at will.

Filtering Water Better than Nature

Water passes through human-made straws faster than the "gold standard" protein, allowing us to filter seawater.

Machine Learning Provides a Bridge to the Texture of the Quantum World

Machine learning and neural networks are the foundation of artificial intelligence and image recognition, but now they offer a bridge to see and recognize exotic insulating phases in quantum materials.


Spotlight

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago

Tuesday December 07, 2010, 05:00 PM

UC San Diego Installing 2.8 Megawatt Fuel Cell to Anchor Energy Innovation Park

University of California San Diego

Monday November 01, 2010, 12:50 PM

Rensselaer Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center Announces First Deployment of New Technology on Campus

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday September 10, 2010, 12:40 PM

Ithaca College Will Host Regional Clean Energy Summit

Ithaca College

Tuesday July 27, 2010, 10:30 AM

Texas Governor Announces $8.4 Million Award to Create Renewable Energy Institute

Texas Tech University

Friday May 07, 2010, 04:20 PM

Creighton University to Offer New Alternative Energy Program

Creighton University

Wednesday May 05, 2010, 09:30 AM

National Engineering Program Seeks Subject Matter Experts in Energy

JETS Junior Engineering Technical Society

Wednesday April 21, 2010, 12:30 PM

Students Using Solar Power To Create Sustainable Solutions for Haiti, Peru

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Wednesday March 03, 2010, 07:00 PM

Helping Hydrogen: Student Inventor Tackles Challenge of Hydrogen Storage

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday February 04, 2010, 02:00 PM

Turning Exercise into Electricity

Furman University

Thursday November 12, 2009, 12:45 PM

Campus Leaders Showing the Way to a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future

National Wildlife Federation (NWF)

Tuesday November 03, 2009, 04:20 PM

Furman University Receives $2.5 Million DOE Grant for Geothermal Project

Furman University

Thursday September 17, 2009, 02:45 PM

Could Sorghum Become a Significant Alternative Fuel Source?

Salisbury University

Wednesday September 16, 2009, 11:15 AM

Students Navigating the Hudson River With Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)





Showing results

0-4 Of 2215